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Car seats make 'astronomical difference'
Free inspections Saturday
WHERE: Kohl's parking lot, Yuma Palms Regional Center
WHEN: 9 a.m.-noon Saturday
Forever seared in the mind and heart of Clay Lawson is the memory of a 20-month-old girl killed in a vehicular rollover accident near Quartzsite in 2006 in which the child was ejected from the vehicle.
He was with her when she died while being airlifted to a hospital in Phoenix.
What Lawson doesn’t understand — and for which there will never be an answer because the driver also was killed — is why the child wasn’t restrained in the car seat that was in the vehicle.
That, and scenes he’s seen as an accident investigator for the Yuma Police Department, are his motivation to do what he can to prevent other such tragedies.
"I never want to see that again," said Lawson, who serves as the president of Yuma County Safe Kids, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent unintentional childhood injuries and fatalities — the No. 1 killer of children ages 14 and under.
"People just don’t know the dangers when they’re putting their child at risk," he said, adding that it only takes a moment to properly restrain a child in a car seat.
Lawson cautioned that there are many kinds of car seats and booster seats and every vehicle is different. It’s important that parents use the right seat one for their child’s age, height and weight — and use it correctly.
As an accident investigator, he can vouch firsthand that they do work. "There’s a 53 percent greater chance of surviving a serious collision with a booster seat and a 71 percent greater chance with a car seat. It’s an astronomical difference."
A variety of programs are available to assist parents in the selection and installation of the correct restraint for their child and their vehicle.
For one thing, Safe Kids regularly holds free inspections by certified technicians to ensure that car seats and booster seats are installed and positioned properly, or to demonstrate the correct installation to a new parent. Inspectors also will check to see if the car seat in use is on a recall list.
The next inspection one will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Kohl’s in partnership with the store and Yuma Regional Medical Center Foundation.
During the event, Kohl’s Department Stores through Kohl’s Cares cause merchandize program, will donate $19,191 to the YRMC foundation. Since 2006, Kohl’s has gifted approximately $92,000 to the foundation and its child injury prevention programs.
"Three out of four parents think they have the car seat installed correctly but have it wrong," Lawson said. "We want to make sure the child is safer on the road. If we only check two or three, that’s two or three kids who are a little safer."
Families may even be eligible for a free car seat through Project KISS (Kids in Safety Seats) if they’re on WIC, AHCCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System) or food stamps. As part of the project, the recipients must take a two-hour education class that provides an overview of the various car seats, how to install them and common errors in their use. Then they’re supervised as they install the car seat to make sure they’re doing it correctly. Classes are offered in both English and Spanish.
For more information about KISS, call Ryan Butcher at 317-4580. Butcher is the injury prevention coordinator for Yuma County Public Health Services District and a member of Safe Kids.
Common errors, said Butcher, are the wrong restraint for the child, leaving the harness around the child too loose, leaving the seat belt holding the car seat too loose, using the wrong seat belt path — or not using a restraint at all.
Lawson emphasized that infants and small children should be restrained in rear-facing car seats in the back seat, buckled with the seat’s harness, until age 2. As 70 percent of car accidents involve front-end collisions, the rear-facing car seat is designed to maximize protection of babies’ heads, necks and spines from whiplash in that type of accident.
The middle of the back seat is considered the safest place for a child, especially with the advent of air bags.
Lawson stressed that parents should not hold their child on their laps in a moving vehicle. "It’s not safe and it’s illegal."
When children outgrow their rear-facing seats, they should be restrained in a forward-facing safety seat until age 4 or 40 pounds.
Between the ages of 4 and 8 or until they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall, children should be in a booster seat designed to lift them so that lap belts fit flat across their upper thighs and shoulder belts hit mid-shoulder, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Butcher noted that a new law in Arizona that went into effect Aug. 1 requires that children under age 8 or under 4 feet, 9 inches be in a booster seat.
Older children should always use a seat belt.
One concern is that parents may put their children into booster seats too early, with tragic results. For instance, a 3-year-old girl riding in a booster seat was killed in a crash recently in Las Vegas.
"Some crashes just are not survivable," Lawson said. "But she probably should still have been in a car seat as it offers more protection."
Recently, Yuma County Safe Kids held a training program for people who wanted to become certified child passenger safety technicians.
Hugo De La Mora was among them. He explained that he works for Head Start and wanted the skills to train parents in their children’s safety. In the process, he said, he realized he had been doing some things wrong as the parent of a 6-year-old.
"I had never thought before how serious safety is," he concluded.